Vegetable spring rolls

A few years ago, Gordon Ramsay brought out a cookbook called 3 Star Chef. It contains lots of his recipes and secrets from his Hospital Road restaurant and when I saw it I thought, “What? Why would he bring out a book giving away all his secrets? What if people decide not to go to the restaurant anymore because they can just make it themselves?” Then I read this so-called “cookbook” and I realised why he had nothing to fear. Yes, this book has recipes and techniques for cooking, and actually some of them aren’t that difficult. But there’s no way that anyone would ever make any of them in full. Most of them have at least 3 different elements just within one part of a dish. Even if you literally had nothing to do and could devote a whole day to this, you still wouldn’t because after spending the whole day making them you wouldn’t have any energy left to entertain guests to eat them.

In a very small way (really very very small), I felt a little bit the same about starting my own food blog. If I give away all my secrets, will people still want to eat my cooking? Will people think, “nah, can’t be bothered to go to Katie and Jon’s tonight, I’ll just go on her blog and do it myself”? I don’t really think there’s much chance of this happening, but just in case, I thought I’d put a recipe up here that looks really complicated, so you’ll go, “what a complete FAFF. I’ll go to Katie’s and have it there instead.”

I absolutely love these vegetable spring rolls, and one of the best things about them is that you can make loads and shove them in the freezer, and they are actually even better when crisped up in the oven. Pre-Joe, when my mum and I were stocking my freezer with good hearty meals that we could eat in the weeks after he was born, I also made a massive bag of these to freeze. Not exactly an essential, but really nice, on those rare occasions when I could sit down to eat a whole meal without being interrupted, to have such a delicious snack or starter.

The best thing to use for these is a bag of those stir fry vegetables which you can buy ready-prepared from the supermarket. The reason they work well, apart from the convenience, is that they give a good mix of vegetables, and if you prepared all the vegetables yourself then you would have to make hundreds of spring rolls, as 1 carrot, 1 pepper, 1 bag of beansprouts, etc, would make a lot of filling.

I find that one bag weighing about 300g will make between 8 and 10 spring rolls, depending on how full you like them, and of course how big your spring roll wrappers are. I use wrappers which are around 20cm square (I think they are actually 215mm) – you can buy bigger and smaller, but these are the ones that I think work best. When I am making these, I tend to buy 3 or 4 bags of vegetables, and do a whole load in one go.

All you do is stir fry the vegetables, using a very little bit of oil. I also add a lot of grated ginger, because I like it, and plenty of soy sauce. You can add any seasoning you like, but the two important things to remember are (1) that by the time you are finished you don’t want to have any liquid remaining in the pan with the vegetables, as this could make your spring rolls go soggy, and (2) all the flavours that you want your spring roll to have need to go in to the vegetables. Obviously  you can dip your spring roll in any sauce you like, but the wrapper itself doesn’t add any flavour, so if your vegetables are under seasoned and tasteless then the spring roll will be the same.

I like to fry these in a very little bit of oil, turning all the time so that they crisp up evenly and on all sides. Jon always wants to experiment – “why don’t we BAKE them? Why don’t we try DEEP frying them?” but I’m like, “can we please just not ruin these spring rolls that I’ve spent ages folding, and do it the way we know?” So I haven’t tried either just baking or deep frying. Obviously deep frying would work, but I don’t want to do anything as unhealthy as that (and then what do you do with the oil, anyway? Yuk.) Baking, after brushing with oil, may work but I’m not sure if it would be as tasty. If you’re planning to do either of those things, please invite Jon over to try it with you.

Once you have stirfried the vegetables and made sure that no liquid remains, put them in a bowl and let them cool.

Crack an egg and put the white into a small flat dish – you will use this to seal the spring rolls.

Then take one spring roll wrapper, and put a small heap of vegetables in the corner of the pastry:

Then start rolling:

Then fold one side in to the middle:

Then fold the other side and continue to roll, until you just have a small flap remaining:

Then dab a little egg white on that flap, and roll it up and stick it down.

Fry, then eat or freeze.

(Shhhh… it’s really easy)

*Approximate nutritional values (1 spring roll)*

  • Calories: 99kcal
  • Carbs: 11g
  • Fat: 6g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 305mg

*Baby-friendly version*

These are perfect for babies (you can fill them with anything) but can be a little crispy if, like Joe, your baby doesn’t have many teeth. You could use Vietnamese wrappers instead, which are soft and don’t require cooking.

Lebanese spinach rice

When you’re cooking for your family every night, it’s good to have up your sleeve recipes that really pull their weight, that can tick off more than one box at a time. In this category I include one-pot meals (Jon calls these “infinity meals”, because being served a portion from a big pot rather than just having food taken out of the oven and put on your plate makes you feel like you can go back again and again and again for more), and recipes which combine two parts of a meal in one, like a vegetable and a carbohydrate together.

The very idea that I would even come up with such a recipe goes a little bit against my core principles, devised when I was very little, which ruled that everything had to be separated on the plate. I would eat a meal with meat or fish, potatoes or rice and vegetables, but I could not bear the idea of eating a mouthful which contained more than one of those things. Often, but not always, I would eat all of one food first before starting on another (in reverse order of preference, obviously: gross vegetables first, OK chicken next, yummy potatoes last). The worst was when one food was in a sauce that would leak into another food, like chicken in a sauce that would leak into and TOTALLY RUIN the potatoes. I do still kind of eat like this, actually, but I have slightly relaxed the principles to allow for foods that are cooked together into a concoction that are intended to be eaten together. That is why I can happily eat the chicken in ratatouille I posted earlier (chicken, vegetables in tomato sauce), but will get really annoyed if the sauce from the chicken leaks into the rice I’m eating it with. Yuck.

You will be pleased to know that Joe is not like this at all. He loves to smush his rice into his curry, and much prefers his potatoes to be mixed into the tomato sauce of his casserole. However, I am secretly quite delighted that when he gets his cereal or porridge and berries in the morning he carefully picks out the berries first and gobbles them all up before getting down to the much more boring cereal part of the meal. Soon I hope he’ll learn the concept of delayed gratification, so that he’ll eat the porridge first and save the berries for last, but everything in its own time – he’s only just getting to grips with cutlery.

And so onto my hard-working, vegetable and carbohydrate combining recipe: Lebanese spinach rice. Disclaimer: this dish may or may not actually be Lebanese. What I can say for sure is that it is the most Lebanese dish I’ve ever had.

Which, OK, isn’t saying much. It’s possible that I’ve only called this recipe “Lebanese spinach rice” because it makes it sound exotic and therefore more appetising. I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten authentic Lebanese cooking, but until I do, I’ll keep thinking of it as Lebanese. It came about because I was thinking about whether you could incorporate spinach into a rice dish in a delicious way, and I thought that if you could, it would be a Middle Eastern cuisine that would do it best. Then I read about a Lebanese restaurant, allegedly the best Lebanese restaurant in London. I didn’t go to it in real life, but I went to its website, where they had a recipe for spinach rice. I liked the sound of it, and so I added and subtracted a few things, and a delicious side dish, incorporating vegetables and carbohydrates, was born.

I think this goes brilliantly with simple grilled fish, or with a delicious marinated grilled chicken that I will share with you on another occasion.

Makes 2 adults (and probably 1 baby as well, as it seems to make very big portions)

  • 4 floz basmati rice
  • 1 large onion
  • 250g spinach
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 teasp Dijon mustard
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Rinse and drain the rice and cook. For goodness sake, cook it properly and don’t make a stodgy mess of it. That means that for 4 fl oz rice you will need 6 fl oz water. Start by heating a small amount of oil in the saucepan, then add the rice, stirring to coat all of the grains and lightly toast them. Then add the water, and bring to the boil. When it is bubbling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Leave it for about 10-15 minutes (really depending on the heat of your hob), until it is done. For this recipe, you don’t want to get a crispy layer of rice on the bottom, so do not over do it. (Writing this has given me an idea – since Jon is the rice master chef, I will add a video tutorial from him on how to cook the perfect rice)
  2. In a large, dry frying pan, add the pine nuts and toast, being careful not to overdo it, as they can burn easily. (In fact, if you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see that’s exactly what I’ve done – I did win the game of Ruzzle I was playing at the time, though).
  3. While that is happening, dice the onion.
  4. When the pine nuts are done, remove and set aside, and then add a little oil to the frying pan. Add the onion, and cook until golden.
  5. Add the spinach, and cook for a few minutes until it is greatly reduced. If the rice is not yet ready, then just leave the onion and spinach on a very low heat until it is.
  6. Juice the lemon while you wait.
  7. Add the rice to the frying pan, together with the lemon juice and mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to mix everything together, and add the pine nuts back to the mix.

There is very little to do to make this baby-friendly – just don’t add the pine nuts at the end as they are a choking hazard and use less or no salt (but this dish doesn’t need much salt anyway).

*Approximate nutritional values (adult portion)*

  • Calories: 350 kcal
  • Carbs: 7g
  • Fat: 11g
  • Protein: 6g
  • Sugar: 6g
  • Sodium: 1130mg